We knew it.
Last year, before the NCAA tournament had even begun, we called the Villanova Wildcats as the overall winner. We weren’t alone, of course—Villanova has been one of the winningest teams over the last several years, thanks to the leadership of Coach Jay Wright. But it’s not the only reason we picked Villanova as the country’s best men’s basketball team in 2018.
That was for another stat altogether: Graduation Success Rate, the proportion of athletes a team has graduated within a six year time frame. At Villanova that is 100 percent.
This should be a no-brainer: College basketball is college basketball, after all. But it is a rare commodity in the era of the (hopefully on its way out) one-and-done collegiate career, whereby 18-year-olds spend a year as rent-a-students auditioning for the NBA.
According to the annual report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, from where we gleaned the stats, Villanova is one of 11 schools—down from 12 last year—with a 100 percent graduation rate. (It’s the only local college among the 100 percenters, since Penn and Bucknell didn’t make it this year.) Another 51 of the 68 teams in the tournament graduated 70 percent of their athletes this year, compared to 48 last year.
A couple years ago, we asked a question: What is someone who loves March Madness, but who is also afflicted with a social conscience, to do? The answer we came up with was to pick your teams based on graduation rates.
So again this year, we give you The Citizen March Madness Bracket:
In addition to each team’s tournament seeding, The Citizen Bracket selects the winner based on Graduation Success Rates (GSR). When the teams with a 100 percent GSR meet, we take into account another metric: Academic Progress Rates (APR), a multi-year tracking of a team’s classroom performance. In the final, both Belmont and Villanova have the same scores on both fronts—so naturally we picked ‘Nova. (Go Wildcats!)
College sports contains within it a litany of shame. This was made clear again last month after Duke superstar Zion Williamson injured his knee 33 seconds into a game against University of North Carolina when his brand new Nikes fell apart. That led to a host of handwringing over the injustice of college sports finances. The two coaches on the court that night make a combined $11 million. And while Duke, as a private university, has not revealed the value of its Nike contract, The New York Times reported that UNC stands to make more than $90 million in cash and merchandise from the shoe company over 10 years—and its basketball coach, Roy Williams, an average of $300,000 a year from Nike in the same time period.
Williamson’s take in all this? Zero.
Williamson, who has since recovered, will be fine. The freshman has done his time, and is expected to be the number one NBA draft pick this year, all but guaranteeing he’ll be a millionaire by the time his classmates start their new school year. But what about the rest of the athletes in the tournament? By far most of them will never see a day of NBA play—and many will not have a college degree, either.
All the more reason to root for Wright and his Villanova champions, doing it the right way.